The City of Kingston has approved the entrance to Belle Park on Montreal Street as a temporary camping location in response to the growing number of homeless people choosing to live outdoors across Kingston.
According to Nathan Rosevear, who has been living at the camp at Belle Park for three weeks, there were 21 full-time residents as of Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Another 20 drop in daily, he said, to access support from Home Base Housing’s Street Outreach Team, including food, supplies and social services.
Rosevear says some occupants are choosing to camp rather than comply with a mandatory 14-day isolation period required to access shelters during the Covid-19 pandemic. He said occupants greatly appreciate the approved location.
“The city has been really nice,” Rosevear says. “We were super-surprised by how friendly they are, how accommodating they are.”
“The city is trying to help us to come up with a solution. The province is the one that requires these measures,” he continued. “The city, they’re not disagreeing with that, but they’re recognizing there’s a gap in services.”
Tom Greening, Executive Director of Home Base Housing (HBH), says there’s more to it than Covid-19 restrictions.
“There are a small group who are camping [to avoid] self-isolation,” Greening says, “but the majority have other reasons.”
He says that HBH’s In From The Cold Shelter at 670 MacLean Court in the City’s east end has 34 rooms with self-contained washrooms, suitable for self-isolation.
“In April and May, post COVID-19, we have seen a 25 per cent increase in bed utilization,” he says. “We have had as many as 33 individuals.”
“Belle Park is garnering a fair bit of attention,” says Greening, “but there are many more individuals camped at other locations around the city. About 20 per cent are youth.”
Rosevear confirmed that Belle Park serves as a “hub” to support occupants at other camps, who stop in to pick up supplies.
HBH’s outreach team stops in twice daily delivering sandwiches, donuts, bottled water, fresh fruit, juice and other supplies. Rosevear says these essentials help keep the peace at camp.
“People don’t have to be hostile [here],” he explains. “They have food, they have a place to stay, they have people around them. Food, cigarettes, basic supplies.”
Rosevear has reinforced his tent with planks of wood, flags and tarps. He and other occupants salvage tools and materials from around the park, even wading into the freezing lake in April to pull out a fallen tree for use as a bench.
According to Robert Hosier, Communications Officer for the City of Kingston, people at the camp are also offered a caseworker that can assist them with supports that will ultimately lead to a safe and sustainable housing situation.
Constable Ashley Gutheinz, Media Officer for Kingston Police, confirmed that the City of Kingston identified Belle Park as a temporary location for the encampment, after two previous camps were disbanded from the downtown area. Since the beginning of April of this year, Kingston Police have been called to the site nine times.
Rosevear said that Kingston Police have also endeared the homeless population at the camp, dispelling old prejudices held by some occupants.
“They were really nice to us when we left [Kingston General Hospital] KGH,” Rosevear says, referencing a previous unauthorized camp location on King Street West, which was set up after the camp behind City Hall was dismantled.
“A police officer actually offered to buy me coffee and we had a long talk about the current situation,” he says.
“We all came to an agreement here, we’re all getting along.”
How long the City will allow the camp location remains to be seen. Rick Levine, a 67 year-old occupant of the park, says he hopes to be able to stay until the end of summer.
Greening says that HBH is in discussions with the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health Unit and paramedics to see if regular Covid-19 testing for Kingston’s shelter population might be possible.
“This would potentially reduce the length of time that individuals would need to self-isolate,” he says. “I am hopeful that we can come up with something workable.
Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community.
This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.